It may seem somewhat arbitrary when a piece of online content goes viral, but there is rhyme and reason to why it happens. 

An article byThe New York Times on Tuesday looks at recent research on viral content and outlines the factors that contribute to a video getting millions of views or an article being shared a large number of times. 

If you're interested in turning a a message about your company into a viral hit, it's useful to get a better understanding of the psychology behind sharing. Here are a handful of takeaways from the article.

Emotion is king

The key to virality is eliciting an emotional response. Emotional content--either negative or positive--is more likely to be shared. The more intense the emotional response a video or other piece of content elicits, the greater the traffic that piece will get. 

Emotions are contagious 

In that same vein, researchers found that when people posted status updates on social media, their friends in other cities who read them were more likely post similar ones. This was particularly true for status updates that expressed positive emotions. "People share things they have strong emotional reactions to, especially strong positive reactions," Rosanna Guadagno, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, told the Times. 

Sharing can be a release

Posting videos and content on social media or sending links to friends can be a way people process the emotions they are feeling. Additionally, if people are physiologically aroused--for example, if they just finished a workout--they are more likely to share content. "Arousal is an aversive state, so people want to get out of it by sharing," Jonah Berger, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told the Times

Ego can fuel shares

People will use content to build their image online--they will post certain videos or share certain links because they are interested in what the posting will do for their status.  Researchers have found that frequently people post articles to Twitter that they haven't actually read.